The Tiger on the Couch

Opinions - October 2nd, 2009

by Ian de Stains OBE

Photo by Luca5

I was recently at an event at a great house in Tokyo where I was able to view the visitors’ book for 1929. One of the signatures was that of Rabindranath Tagore, the celebrated Bengali poet and educator who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. I was excited because Tagore is famous for saying—among many other wise statements—that God created the cat so that we could have the pleasure of touching the tiger.

If you are a cat person, this will resonate immediately. If you are not, oh dear!

I grew up with dogs—my father favored Airedales—and cats were a mystery to me. They were tolerated (just) in the garden. I ignored them for the most part, though I confess sometimes to chasing them away for no reason other than that they were cats.

Then I went to drama school and one of my tutors—an extraordinary Russian lady called Madame Fedro who taught us Restoration movement— said that if we really wanted to understand the meaning of grace, we should study the domestic feline. The cat, she said, was never less than graceful; the cat was the perfect example of ergonomics. Every actor, she said, should strive to meet the same standard.

Not long after, I was adopted by a kitten that immediately showed me that Madame Fedro was onto something. Since then, there has always been at least one cat in my life at any given time. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on dogs; when I last lived in London I had a cat and dog that lived together really very comfortably. And when retirement beckons, I think I’ll be looking for a dog to walk with me along the riverbank.

But for now, the house is blessed by Yuri, a kuro tora neko (black tiger cat), and a wonderful member of the family. Yuri was abandoned by his mother and we found him, the size of a tennis ball, by the roadside one evening. I was convinced he wouldn’t survive the night, so poor was his condition— we had to feed him milk and honey from an eye-dropper—but he beat the odds and here he is, almost ten years later, ruling the household.

Throughout the seven or so months that I took to write my last book, Yuri spent much of the time when I was at work purring on my knee, which was a great comfort. Less easy to live with were the occasions when he took to attacking the cursor or casually erased whole passages with a swift pat of a paw. From Yuri did I really learn how important it is to make regular back ups!

Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Yuri helped him produce the Business Travellers’ Handbook to Japan, published by Stacey International and available from Amazon.